The 2011 New York state legislative session: What got done?

In Columns by Hal Peterson0 Comments

My last two columns “As promised: keeping tabs” (June 30-July 6) and “Is the bloom off the rose?” (July 21 -27) provided information to evaluate the session-ending accomplishments of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Two fundamental questions were raised. Has there been a real transformation in the way the “people’s business” is being managed in Albany? Do our political leaders really understand the State of New York is still headed down a path of fiscal instability and requires levels of real reform hardly evident to date?

Let’s review what was really accomplished using information gathered by the New York Public Interest Research Group. During the past six months, 14,336 bills were introduced by 212 members of both houses of which less than 10 percent have (or will be) delivered to the governor. The appetite for sponsoring bills varies considerably with 11 representatives introducing 200 or more; and, eight others five or fewer. Senator Carl Kruger, Dem. Brooklyn, who was indicted last March on corruption charges, introduced the most bills, 371, not one of which passed both houses.

In the Senate, 65 percent of bills passed unanimously and an additional 29 percent passed with fewer than ten votes in the negative. Senate Republicans voted with Majority Leader Dean Skelos 98.9 percent of the time. In the Assembly, 46 percent of the bills passed unanimously and the average Democratic Assembly member voted with Silver 97.4 percent of the time. Three-thousand four hundred and eighty-four (3,484) noncontroversial resolutions were introduced, and 97.7 percent of them were adopted. These statistics reaffirm the tight control the majorities have over bills that get passed in their respective chambers.

I my opinion these statistics paint a dismal portrait of the legislative process. Why are so many bills written with little hope of passage? Has individual initiative been squashed in favor of the mantra of party politics? Why are we seeing business as usual results in these particularly troubled times? Are we willing to accept Cuomo’s remark that we are witnessing “progress on historic initiatives, action on issues that have been left unresolved for decades”?

My next column will examine Senate bill S4006A-2011 that was sponsored by Skelos last March and approved by the full Senate. If enacted, this bill would establish a new Legislative Budget Office (LBO) that is modeled after the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). In addition, Skelos is also supporting Senate bill S 3657-2011 that would establish a new, user-friendly website to improve accountability of state government agencies. Both bills require serious consideration.

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